Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hemingway on Chesterton

At the May 18 meeting of the Rochester Chesterton Society, Father Leo Hetzler amused us all by reading a passage from a Hemingway story that praises Chesterton.

The passage comes from the Nick Adams story, "The Three-Day Blow." Nick and his friend Bill are drinking and discussing books and writers they like:

"I'd like to meet Chesterton," Bill said.

"I wish he was here now," Nick said. "We'd take him fishing to the `Voix tomorrow."

"I wonder if he'd like to go fishing," Bill said.

"Sure," said Nick. "He must be about the best guy there is. Do you remember `Flying Inn'?"

If an angel out of heaven
Gives you something else to drink,
Thank him for his kind intentions;
Go and pour them down the sink.

"That's right," said Nick. "I guess he's a better guy that Walpole."

"Oh, he's a better guy, all right," Bill said.

"But Walpole's a better writer."

"I don't know," Nick said. "Chesterton's a classic."

"Walpole's a classic, too," Bill insisted.

"I wish we had them both here," Nick said. "We'd take they both fishing to the `Voix tomorrow."

"Let's get drunk, Bill said.

"All right," Nick agreed.

The Walpole mentioned is Hugh Walpole (1884-1941), a contemporary of Chesterton. Before Chesterton's name appears in the story, the Nick and Bill had been talking about two of Walpole's books, Fortitude, and The Dark Forest.

"Flying Inn," is, of course, The Flying Inn. The cited verses is part of song recited while the characters are drinking water. (The edition I have renders "Gives" as "Brings.")

It's hard to imagine two writers with such different writing styles and world views as Chesterton and Hemingway. But that wouldn't have prevented them from appreciating the each other's skills. Indeed, a number of brief biographies of Chesterton mention that Hemingway praised Chesterton. (Other than this passage, however, I haven't found any other praises. Perhaps someone has a quotation to share?)

I suspect Hemingway is in part playing around here. Chesterton was still alive at the time he was writing the Nick Adams stories, so he was familiar with him, as would his readers have been.

Hemingway would have known that Chesterton was not a sportsman of the "manly" sort Hemingway portrayed himself as being. But I can imagine them enjoying a drink together.

Of course, two boys like Nick and Bill would likely not have been aware of all of this. Yet the subtext of this story is Nick trying to figure out what kind of person he is going to be. A man's man? A married man (he's just broken up with his girlfriend)?

Is Chesterton introduced to help suggest Nick's spiritual quest?

As for the boys' idea of getting Chesterton to join them for a day on the `Voix, it's hard to imagine Chesterton fishing - or even getting into a small fishing boat.

And putting Walpole and Chesterton in a boat together?

Only if the boat had been converted into a bookshelf!

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